Learner gender and learning opportunities in task-based interaction


Abstract  Research on language and gender has documented male-female (MF) differences in the way language is used. Although this issue has not been researched very often in SLA, within the framework of the Interaction Hypothesis (IH) (Long, 1996), which claims that conversational interaction facilitates L2 learning, MF differences in interaction may play an important role. In fact, Ross-Feldman (2007) argued that both males and females ESL learners were advantaged when working with female partners as dyads completed communicative tasks and suggested that more research with different populations and tasks should be carried out. Thus, the current study set out to investigate the influence of learner gender on L2 learning opportunities while the participants were engaged in completing four communicative tasks in matched (male-male, female-female) and mixed (male-female) gender dyads. Learning opportunities were operationalized as language-related episodes (LREs), as they have been claimed to be a site where L2 learning might occur (Adams 2007; Kim 2008, Swain and Lapkin, 1998). If MF differences in the incidence and outcome of LREs are found, they might be related to the benefits learners obtain from interaction. Forty four (22 male, 22 female) intermediate EFL participants carried out two information-gap tasks (picture description and picture placement) and two collaborative tasks (dictogloss and text reconstruction). Twenty hours of conversational interaction were transcribed and codified and LREs were analyzed on the basis of their frequency and outcome type (correctly/incorrectly resolved or unresolved). The findings showed that (i) there was no significant difference between the LREs generated by matched- and mixed- gender dyads; (ii) there was a significant task effect - LREs were more common in those tasks where a writing component was included (Adams and Ross-Feldman, 2008)-, and a significant group x task interaction effect, and (iii) most LREs were resolved in a target-like manner. These findings will be commented on in light of recent research on the importance of individual variables (specifically gender) in task-based interaction. References Adams, R. 2007. Do second language learners benefit from interacting with each other? In A. Mackey (Ed.). Conversational interaction in second language acquisition (pp.29- 52). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Adams, R., & Ross-Feldman, L. 2008. Does writing influence learner attention to form? In D. Belcher & A. Hirvela (eds.). The oral/literate connection: Perspectives on L2 speaking/writing connections (pp.243-67). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. Kim, Y. 2008. The contribution of collaborative and individual tasks to the acquisition of L2 vocabulary. The Modern Language Journal, 92, 114-130 Long, M.H. 1996. The role of the linguistic environment in second language acquisition. In W. C. Ritchie and T.K. Bhatia (eds.) Handbook of Second Language Acquisition (pp. 413-468). New York: Academic Press. Ross-Feldman, L. 2007. Interaction in the L2 classroom: does gender influence learning opportunities? In A. Mackey (ed.). Conversational Interaction in Second Language Acquisition: A Collection of Empirical Studies (pp. 52-77).Oxford: Oxford University Press Swain, M. and S. Lapkin. 1998. Interaction and second language learning: Two adolescent French immerse on students working together. The Modern Language Journal 82: 320- 337.

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